The review, which was conducted by researchers from the Loyola University Medical Center, is an updated account of a 2003 paper previously published in the journal Medlink Neurology. Before this review, several studies have already suggested a connection between stroke and oral contraceptives, which is alarming since at least 100 million women around the globe currently take the medication.
Ischemic stroke risk and oral contraceptives
Ischemic stroke, one of the four major types of strokes, makes up a whopping 85 percent of all strokes. A person suffers from an ischemic stroke when a part of their brain becomes starved of blood, which can usually occur when a blood clot blocks circulation. The blood clot that causes this type of stroke can often form due to atherosclerosis, a condition where fatty deposits build up on the inner lining of a blood vessel.
A hemorrhagic stroke, another type of stroke, occurs when someone suffers excessive bleeding happens in the brain.
These types of strokes occur in different ways, and this can explain why oral contraceptives specifically increase the risk of ischemic stroke and not hemorrhagic stroke.
The researchers explained that birth control pills could make the blood more likely to coagulate or clot. Oral contraceptives may also increase blood pressure. Both these adverse side effects can result in the formation of blood clots that can block circulation, especially in the cerebral blood vessels, which can cause a stroke. (Related: Research shows that eating citrus fruits can reduce stroke risk.)
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In general, the risk of stroke because of birth control pills is relatively small, especially for healthy young women. However, the risk remains significantly higher for women who already have known stroke risk factors, such as:
- Cigarette use
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- High blood pressure/hypertension
- High cholesterol
- Migraines with aura (Aura is a migraine-related syndrome of sensory changes, such as visual disturbances and tingling.)
- Physical inactivity
After considering this evidence, the researchers warn that women with stroke risk factors must reconsider the use of birth control pills. While your reproductive health is a personal decision, if you or someone you love is thinking of taking birth control pills, always discuss the potential risks with a trusted healthcare professional.
Three things to consider before taking birth control pills
Use these helpful considerations from the review by Loyola Medicine stroke specialists to decide if the risk associated with oral contraceptives is worth risking your health:
- Any woman considering oral contraceptives must be carefully screened, although it’s doubtful that this is done properly in all instances.
- Birth control pills must have the minimal effective dose of the hormones estrogen and progestin: just enough to prevent pregnancy but not enough to excessively raise the risk of negative side effects. These include conditions such as breast tenderness, changes to eyesight in people who use using contact lenses, decreased libido, headaches and migraine, intermenstrual spotting, nausea, missed periods, mood changes, vaginal discharge, and weight gain.
- Every woman who takes oral contraceptives is at some risk of getting an ischemic stroke.
If you would like to learn more about your current birth control method, talk to a medical professional and ask about other safer alternatives.
Visit WomensHealth.news to learn more about the dangerous side effects of birth control pills.